Live at the Fillmore ’68 is an outstanding and welcome glimpse into the exciting musical invention of one of rock’s most musically creative groups, Santana. It also offers much for jazz listeners to appreciate. At this point in the band’s evolution it was called the Santana Blues Band and this quintet of young, talented and broad-minded musicians (featuring talented B-3 grinder / vocalist Greg Rolie) was still one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets. What is most striking (especially on this disc) is that the young Carlos Santana had already perfected his own signature sound on guitar a wedding of wails and wild runs that benefited from the influence of both B.B. King and Gabor Szabo.
Long-time Santana fans will recognize many of the tunes here: «Jingo,» «Persuasion,» «Treat» and «Soul Sacrifice» especially. But these are looser, less polished and juicier versions than Santana’s better-known later performances of the same tunes. Rolie’s vocals (which were never bettered throughout the band’s subsequent years) are kept to a minimum over the two-disc set in favor of energetic Latin rock and exploratory blues rock.
The jazz influence, however, is unmistakable. «Treat,» starting off with a two-chord blues exploration by Rolie on piano, is reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s version of Donald Byrd’s «Christo Redentor» then progresses toward Santana’s expressive, Wes Montgomery-like cadenzas. «Chunk A Funk» has the feel of one of those late 1960s Blue Note funk tunes popularized by Lou Donaldson («Midnight Creeper») or John Patton. Here, as elsewhere, Rolie is a revelation on the B-3, offering a heaping helping of Jimmy Smith-like soul.
«Conquistadores Rides Again» is a hot journey through Chico Hamilton’s 1965 «Conquistadores» that brings out the Gypsy rocker in Carlos Santana’s guitar groove. «Freeway,» which topples over 30 minutes (!), starts rockin’ that old Sam Lazar / Grant Green groove, slides into Santana’s B.B. King-meets-Bo Diddley blues chug-a-lug, and then explodes into a genuinely rousing Willie Bobo-like percussion attack before rocking to its exciting conclusion.
The well-recorded Live at the Fillmore ’68 deserves to be heard by jazz and rock listeners alike It’s a reminder of how rock could appeal to jazz lovers in the late 1960s (Jimi Hendrix is another). This music is electric, exciting and exploratory. Kudos to Columbia for letting it out of the vaults.